Iona   
Part 4, exploring Elgin, Africa's coolest wine region

andrew gunn

In 1997 Andrew Gunn (above), who’d made his money from a medical suture company, bought a run-down apple farm in the Elgin region. Now it’s one of South Africa’s leading producers of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It’s at an altitude of 420 metres, with some of the vineyards enjoying a clear view of the sea, which is just 3 km away.

iona chardonnayChardonnay, Iona

Gunn is a first-generation South African. His grandfather was Scottish (hence the name ‘Iona’), a member of one of the oldest clans, the Sutherlands, from near Wick. Remarkably, they can trace their ancestry back to the Vikings. He runs Iona together with his wife Rozy, who is an artist.

werner muller andrew gunn
Werner Muller, winemaker, and Andrew Gunn

Gunn didn’t plant blind; he knew what he was doing in selecting this site. Initially, he put temperature loggers around the farm, and found that the climate here was significantly cooler than expected over the three months that the loggers were recording data. He was able to compare his farm data with those from the Elgin weather station. Because there was a consistent relationship over his three month trial, he was then able to extrapolate his data out over the whole growing season. The exciting results showed that this site was cooler than equivalent places in Europe where Sauvignon Blanc was grown. If the grapes could ripen, then the results could be quite exciting. Peak summer temperatures here are usually 24–25 °C, and if they experience three days over 30 °C during the growing season, then it’s unusual.

Gunn’s uncle was a professor of geomorphology, and he came out in 1997 to do a survey of the site. It showed that the farm had post-glacial alluvial soils: it was an old river valley. The first harvest was in 2001: by South African standards, it was a late one, straddling the end of March and beginning of April. Gunn found that he was getting good fruit set and a long ripening period, which seemed ideal.

brocha
The Brocha farm

soils brocha
Soils at Brocha

brocha
Brocha

There are now three Iona farms. As well as the home farm, on top of a ridge at the edge of the Elgin region, there's another, Rozy's farm Brocha, further down in the valley, which specialises in Syrah, among other things. The main farm has 29 hectares of vines, while Brocha has 11 hectares, making a total of 40. Recently, Iona acquired a spectacular new farm, Langrug, with distinctive koffieklip decomposed shale soils. This has 14 hectares of vines, including some very good Pinot Noir and 2 hectares of recently planted Nebbiolo.

langrug
Langrug


Langrug soils


The Cloof vineyard


Soils at Kloof

Elgin is quite a new region. When Andrew Gunn started out, Paul Cluver was the only producer in the region. Oak Valley was third. ‘We believe it is the up and coming wine region,’ says Gunn. ‘Shortly after I started planting I called a meeting of farmers to share experience. We formed the Elgin Wine Guild, with a view to promote quality.’

Gunn is a big fan of Chardonnay. ‘I planted it because I love white Burgundy. I am very excited about Chardonnay from Elgin generally,’ he reveals.

Winemaking here has been led by Werner Muller (above), who joined from Chamonix in 2011, after previous winemaker John Seccombe had left just a month before vintage.

Andrew and Rozy would like to work organically, but find weed control the big obstacle. They do just one herbicide treatment a year and use no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. They’re also trying to get rid of copper and sulphur as fungicides, and are working with microbial products such as Bacillus.

Chardonnay is a big focus. They have 6 hectares in three blocks, and they’ve just planed another 3 hectares. It’s whole bunch pressed, and some goes straight to barrel. ‘We are all serious about Chardonnay in Elgin,’ says Werner. ‘It’s the place in South Africa to plant this variety.’


Syrah, Iona

Iona is also very well known for its Sauvignon Blanc, which is one of the very best examples of this variety in the Cape. The regular Sauvignon is very pure and precise. I tried some barrel samples of the 2016 Sauvignon and also some Semillon, which were really impressive. This barrel-fermented stuff goes into the excellent one man band. ‘For me, how we could improve Sauvignon Blanc is through texture,’ says Werner. ‘Time in oak gives One Man Band a bit of fatness and develops flavour, without it being clumsy or overdone.’

THE WINES

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Elgin, South Africa
Intense and lively with grapefruit and herb on the nose. Pristine with lovely precision on the intense palate which shows tight, crisp fruit and a touch of herbiness, as well as some salinity. Very driven and focused. Pure. 91/100 (10/16)

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2003 Elgin, South Africa
You wouldn’t expect unoaked Sauvignon to age, but this has really nicely. Fresh and lively with some herby noes and nice apple and lemon notes. There’s bright grapefruit character, too, as well as a hint of cabbage. Smoky hints. 91/100 (10/16)

Iona One Man Band white 2015 Elgin, South Africa
This is 60% Semillon, 40% Sauvignon, pressed whole bunch to old 500 litre barrels, wild ferment. Really complex, taut and detailed with grapefruit, aniseed and lemon notes. Compact and pure with great acidity. So fine and pure. 94/100 (10/16)

Iona Chardonnay 2006 Elgin, Chardonnay
Made by Niels Verburg. Lovely textured pear and peach fruit with some nice spiciness and a bit of quince. Some nutty cashew and peach skin depth, with a bit of mineral. Has aged really well. 92/100 (10/16)

Iona Chardonnay 2007 Elgin, South Africa
Mushroom hints on the nose with spice, pear, peach and melon richness. Bold and richly textured with sweet fruit characters. 90/100 (10/16)

Iona Chardonnay 2008 Elgin, South Africa
Fresh and intense with nice smooth white peach and pear fruit. Lovely textural wine showing smooth fruit and fine spiciness, with a mineral edge. Very fine. 93/100 (10/16)

Iona Chardonnay 2010 Elgin, South Africa
Complex, tight and toasty with nice citrus, white peach and pear fruit. Bold and balanced with lovely pear and spice notes. Has depth but also freshness. 94/100 (10/16)

Iona Chardonnay 2011 Elgin, South Africa
Lovely cabbage, spice and pear fruit. Nice weight. Fine spiciness complements some peach fruit on the palate. Bold yet focused with real precision. 93/100 (10/16)

Iona Chardonnay 2012 Elgin, South Africa
Fresh and detailed with lovely pear, citrus and mandarin characters. Shows real precision and delicacy. 94/100 (10/16)

Iona Chardonnay 2014 Elgin, South Africa
Lovely pear and white peach fruit with nice citrus focus. Lively with pith and nut complexity and direct fruit at its core. Real finesse to this wine. 94/100 (10/16)

Iona Chardonnay 2015 Elgin, South Africa
Tightly focused with a slightly mealy nose and nice citrus fruits. Tight citrus and pear fruit palate with apple and lemon characters. Linear and focused with lovely clean fruit and precise flavours. 92/100 (10/16)

Iona Chardonnay 2016 Elgin, South Africa
Just bottled. Textural and spicy with nice depth to the white peach and pear fruit. Some citrus and a bit of pithiness. A really impressive youthful wine. 93/100 (03/17)

Iona Pinot Noir 2015 Elgin, South Africa
Fresh and supple with lovely elegance. Finely spiced with red cherries and plums. Fresh and bright with purity, precision and detail. 93/100 (03/17)

Iona Solace Syrah 2014 Elgin, South Africa
Just 500 cases made of this elegant Syrah. Lovely floral, peppery red fruits nose. Juicy, appley palate with freshness and structure, showing cherries, plums and spice. Expressive and balanced with a savoury twist. 94/100 (10/16)

Iona Solace Syrah 2015 Elgin, South Africa
Vivid, peppery, bright and juicy with lovely freshness to the direct plum and cherry fruit. Elegant and fine with lovely detail, and hints of clove and olive. Such balance and weight. 94/100 (03/17)

Iona One Man Band Red 2010 Elgin, South Africa
Mainly Shiraz but with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Mourvèdre in the blend. 16 months in 500 litre oak. Brooding blackcurrant and blackberry nose. Very fresh with lively, focused fruit and a bit of grippiness. Firm, spicy and gravelly. 91/100 (10/16)

ELGIN WINE

Introduction
Elgin Ridge 
Almenkerk
Iona
Paul Cluver

See also:

A visit to Elgin from 2010

Wines tasted as indicated  
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